Notre Dame CathedralWheelchair Accessible Cathedral Tour:  France & Germany
by Kazumi Akiyama 1997

In November 1997, Kazumi Akiyama, a Medieval history buff living in Japan, took a whirlwind tour of France and Germany with his new power wheelchair. His dream was to visit some of Europe's most famous cathedrals. During the ten-day trip, he and his attendant toured Notre Dame de Paris, Chartres, Reims, Metz, Trier, and more. The grandeur of those magnificent cathedrals (and The "City of Lights") worked their magic on Kazumi, and he returned home with unforgettable experiences to share.

I'm a hemophiliac and use a wheelchair. In November 1997, I visited France and Germany for ten days. I traveled with Teiko Yoshida , my cousin's daughter, who lives in Dusseldorf. We traveled from country to country in her car. She was my attendant, driver, and interpreter. It was very easy travel for me, but it might have been hard travel for her, so I thank her very much.

This was a really fantastic trip. I used a JAL (Japan Airline) flight. It might have been an off-season for traveling to Europe then because there were some free seats. On the way to Europe, The crew let me use three seats so I could lay down in the airplane. Upon my return to Japan, they let me use four seats. How lucky I was!

I have been interested in the history of the European Middle Ages for many years. I'm not a Christian, but I do know that Christianity is a key factor in Europe's history. On this trip, I visited the big cathedrals: Notre Dame de Paris, Chartres, Reims, Metz, and Trier..

Paris poster graphicMy wheelchair is a Yamaha JW1. It can move 2-hour/8km, and uses two nickel cadmium batteries. It worked very well. I recharged the batteries each night by a 220-100 volt converter. The weight of wheelchair is about 20kg (JW1 unit + wheelchair body). Though it is light for a normal power wheelchair, it might have been a tough job for Teiko to lift in and out to the car several times a day. I thank her again.


Through a Japanese travel agency, I had reserved an adapted room in a hotel in the St. German area. When I arrived in Paris at the Charles de Gaulle Airport, Teiko awaited me. It was 9 p.m. when we arrived at the hotel. Wow! There was a high step at the entrance, a barely usable small elevator, and a small room that was neither adapted nor accessible. It was too late to move to another hotel, so we stayed there our first night in Paris. The next day we moved to the Hotel Mt. Thabor near Jardin des Tuileries. It had good access.

After this trouble, we used the Michelin guidebook to select our hotels. We previously made a list of the wheelchair marked hotels in the guide. When we arrived at a new place, we went directly to the listed hotel. Then we checked to see if it was really adapted. This way worked well. We did not have any more trouble with hotel access. We found that the Michelin guidebook's wheelchair mark was trustworthy.

In Paris, I visited the Louvre. It is an enormous, and very complicated building. There were many elevators. As one elevator was broken, I asked for help from a man who helped me go up the steps. His arms trembled, and he muttered, "You are heavy." I was so sorry about that. I thought I should diet for my next travels.

Then we went to Chartres. At Chartres, there were two wheelchair accessible hotels marked in the Michelin: Ibis and Novotel. Both hotels could be accessible. But the adapted room at the Ibis was a double bed, so we selected the Novotel.

Our third hotel was an Ibis at Fontainbleau. We didn't use an adapted room, because it was a double bed. We selected a big room instead. Though its bathroom was rather small, it could be accessible.

At Reims, we stayed at hotel New Europe, and at Metz we selected the Hotel Theatre. I ate cannelloni at the restaurant of Theatre. It was delicious. There were no problems at either of these hotels.

And then we entered Germany. We stayed at hotel Zur Post in Bernkastel-Kues. Bernkastel-Kues is a very picturesque town beside the river Mosel. There was a good restaurant in that hotel where I ate wild rabbit. But to be frank with you it was not to my taste. Though the hotel was very good, the elevator was rather small. I had to pop up the footrest of my wheelchair to use it. Rudesheim, at river Rhein's opposite side of Bingen, was the last destination I visited.

Germany graphicWe stayed at the hotel Rudesheimer Schloss. The accommodation of this hotel was the best of my travels. There was a very big bathroom with handrails, and a big bathtub, and shower. But the bathtub was too big for me (I'm Japanese).I slipped, and barely escaped from drowning.


The purpose of this trip was to visit big cathedrals. I wanted to see the Notre Dame de Paris for many years. It had a step at the entrance. We asked for help from the visitors, and they were glad to help. The Cathedral was really wonderful. I was deeply impressed by its tall ceiling, and the long way to the chancel, and its beautiful stained glass.

The Cathedral of Chartres was also good. There were a few steps at the entrance, but because of a wooden ramp I didn't need help to enter. The impression of Notre dame de Paris was so strong for me, that I didn't feel a big surprise to see the famous Chartre blue.

For me, the Cathedral of Reims was the best one on this trip. The façade was gorgeous. I could understand why this cathedral was used for coronations by the French kingdom. There were a few steps at the entrance. Two beggars stood beside the gate. Teiko grabbed coins to ask them for help when we went near the gate. Without hesitation, they helped with my wheelchair (even when we did not say anything). Instantly, I was in the cathedral. We lost the chance to give the money to them. After I had seen the cathedral, I wanted to exit. I went to a young man and said, "Est-ce que vous aidez moi?" (Can you help me?). He said, "Je ne comprends pas," ( I don’t understand), and he went away. Oh boy! With another person's help, I left the cathedral. At the side of the cathedral, There were the two beggars drinking from a liquor bottle. I said to them "Merci," And they cried to me, "Bonjour, monsieur.".

At Metz and Trier, we also visited cathedrals. These were fine, but I liked the classical gothic cathedrals such as Notre Dame de Paris best.

It was not a cathedral, but we visited the Eberbach Monastery near Rudesheim. It had been a Cisterician monastery, and it was once a location place for the movie "Name of the Rose." I was very glad to visit this monastery. There was a step at the normal entrance. The receptionist opened a locked door for me to enter through another way into the monastery. This route was barrier-free. It was a three-floor house. The second and third floor comprised a museum. We could visit there by using the elevator, which was locked normally, and a guide clerk came with us to unlock it. They were kind to me, but if the door and elevator had not been locked, I could freely access it by myself.


I felt freeness throughout this trip, and I know the reason why. In Japan, handicapped people are still treated like special persons. They are not unkind to me, but they pay attention to the wheelchair. On this trip, I never thought of myself as a special person, and European people never paid attention to me as a disabled person. That was great.

In France and in Germany, they were never rude to me. When I needed help, and asked them for it, they helped me very kindly. But I noticed that if I didn’t ask them, they didn't help me voluntarily. The only exception were the beggars in Reims.

Here is my hotel list. It seems to me, the price includes petit dejeuner. In Germany, all prices are for two persons per night. At Hotel du Theatre and Hotel zur Post, we stayed in separate rooms. The price of the room charge was for two rooms. I'm sorry I don't know the price of one room.

Hotel Mont-Thabor, 4 rue de Mont-Thabor - 75001 Paris.
Tel 01 42 60 32 77 Fax 01 40 20 09 60
I don't know the price; I paid in a lump sum to the travel agency.

Novotel Chartre, Ave. Marcel Proust, La Madeleine - 28000 Chartre
Tel 02 37 88 13 50 Fax 02 37 30 29 56
Room charge: FF410, Petit Dejeuner FF110

Ibis Fontainebleau, 18 rue de Ferrare - 77300 Fontainebleau
Tel 01 64 23 45 25 Fax 01 64 23 42 22
Room charge: FF220, Petit Dejeuner FF78

New Hotel Europe, 29 rue Buirette - 51100 Reims
Tel 03 26 47 39 39 Fax 03 26 40 14 37
Room charge: FF350, Petit Dejeuner FF104

Hotel du Theatre, Port Saint-Marcel - 57000 Metz
Tel 03 87 31 10 10 Fax 03 87 30 04 66
Room charge: FF405, Petit Dejeuner FF55

Hotel zur Post, 54470 Bernkastel-Kues, Mosel
Tel (06531) 20 22 Fax (06531) 29 27
Room charge: DM180

Rudesheimer Schloss, D-65385 Rudesheim am Rhein, Rheingau
Tel (0) 67 22-9050-0 Fax (0) 67 22-47960
Room charge: DM220

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